Encyclopedia Astronautica
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Mars Reconn Orbiter
American Mars orbiter. One launch, 2005.08.12. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was the first spacecraft designed from the beginning for aerobraking to place it into the desired orbit around Mars.

During its two-year primary science mission, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was to conduct eight different science investigations at Mars, involving global mapping, regional surveying, and high-resolution targeting of specific spots on the surface.


The propulsion subsystem was used for major maneuvers. It could also be used to control the spacecraft's position, as a backup to the primary reaction wheel system. The hydrazine monopropellant pressure-fed system included a single tank with a capacity of 1187 kilograms of usable propellant. This equated to a delta-V of 1.4 km/s. Over 70% of the propellant would be consumed in the Mars orbit insertion maneuver.

Six large MR-107N thrusters, each producing 270 Newtons, were used for the Mars orbit insertion burn. Six medium MR-106E thrusters, each producing 22 Newtons, were used for trajectory correction maneuvers, and to the spacecraft during the Mars orbit insertion burn. Eight small MR-103D thrusters, each producing 0.9 Newtons provided back-up attitude control to the reaction wheels and fine during Mars orbit insertion and trajectory correction maneuvers.

Electrical power was provided by two solar panels, each an area of 10 square meters and contained 3,744 individual solar cells with an efficiency of 26%. Power was delivered at 32 volts. The two panels together produced 1,000 Watts of power at Mars. During aerobraking, the solar panels acted as drag brakes, reaching 200 Celsius due to aerodynamic heating. The solar panels charged two Nickel-Hydrogen rechargeable batteries, each with a storage capacity of 50 Ampere-hours.

Payloads included:

  • HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment): This visible spectrum camera could reveal small-scale objects in the debris blankets of mysterious gullies and details of geologic structure of canyons, craters, and layered deposits.
  • CTX (Context Camera): This camera would provide wide area views to help provide a context for high-resolution analysis of key spots on Mars provided by HiRISE and CRISM.
  • MARCI (Mars Color Imager): This weather camera would monitor clouds and dust storms.
  • Spectrometer: CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars) - This instrument would identify minerals, especially those likely formed in the presence of water, in surface areas on.
  • MCS (Mars Climate Sounder) - This radiometer functioned as an atmospheric profiler to detect vertical variations of temperature, dust, and water vapor concentrations in the Martian atmosphere. Radar:
  • SHARAD (Shallow Radar) - This sounding radar would probe beneath the Martian surface to see if water ice was present at depths greater than one meter.
  • Electra UHF Communications and Navigation Package - Electra allowed the spacecraft to act as a communications relay between the Earth and landed crafts on Mars that did not have sufficient radio power to communicate directly with Earth by themselves.
  • Optical Navigation Camera - This camera was being tested for improved navigation capability for future missions. If it performed well, similar cameras placed on orbiters of the future would be able to serve as high-precision interplanetary "eyes" to guide incoming spacecraft as they neared Mars.
  • Ka-band Telecommunications Experiment Package - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter would test the use of a radio frequency called Ka-band to demonstrate the potential for greater performance in communications using significantly less power.
  • Gravity Field Investigation Package - By tracking the orbiter in the primary science phase, team members would be able to map the gravity field or Mars to understand the geology of the surface and near-surface and the geophysical processes that produce these land features.
  • Atmospheric Structure Investigation Accelerometers - Data collected from accelerometers during aerobraking would help scientists understand the structure of the Martian atmosphere.

Mission Phases

The mission was broken into the following phases following launch from earth:

  • Mars Orbit Insertion - March 2006: The spacecraft approached Mars under the southern hemisphere at an altitude of about 300 kilometers traveling at 3 km/s. The 1 km/s Mars orbit insertion burn would last about 25 minutes, resulting in an elliptical 300 km x 45,000 km orbit with a period of 35 hours.
  • Aerobraking - March 2006 - November, 2006: The spacecraft would use atmospheric drag to reach its 450 km altitude, two-hour period science orbit.
  • Science Operations - November 2006 - November 2008: The primary science phase was to last for at least one Martian year, from the end of solar conjunction in November 2006. The spacecraft would conduct daily global mapping and profiling observations, regional survey campaigns, and high-resolution study of hundreds of globally distributed specific sites. Many targeted observations would involve simultaneous coordinated observations by more than one instrument. 34 Terabits of data would be returned during this phase to two 34-meter Deep Space Network antennae on earth - 20 times more data than previous Mars missions and more data than all previous planetary missions combined.
  • Communications Relay - November 2008 - December 2010: The spacecraft would relay data from spacecraft landed on the Martian surface back to earth.

Gross mass: 2,180 kg (4,800 lb).
Unfuelled mass: 1,031 kg (2,272 lb).
Diameter: 6.50 m (21.30 ft).
Span: 13.60 m (44.60 ft).
First Launch: 2005.08.12.
Number: 1 .

More... - Chronology...

Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Delta 2 7000 American orbital launch vehicle. The Delta 7000 series used GEM-40 strap-ons with the Extra Extended Long Tank core, further upgraded with the RS-27A engine. More...

Associated Countries
Associated Engines
  • MR-107 Redmond hydrazine monopropellant rocket engine. 0.257 kN. Spacecraft and upper stage attitude control and dV corrections, Delta 2, Titan 2, PAM D, SICBM, HAS/Peace Courage, Atlas roll control module, STEP, Pegasus. Isp=236s. First flight 1990. More...

See also
  • Atlas V The Atlas V launch vehicle system was a completely new design that succeeded the earlier Atlas series. Atlas V vehicles were based on the 3.8-m (12.5-ft) diameter Common Core Booster (CCB) powered by a single Russian RD-180 engine. These could be clustered together, and complemented by a Centaur upper stage, and up to five solid rocket boosters, to achieve a wide range of performance. More...

Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Atlas V American orbital launch vehicle. The Atlas V launch vehicle system was a completely new design that succeeded the earlier Atlas series. Atlas V vehicles were based on the 3.8-m (12.5-ft) diameter Common Core Booster (CCB) powered by a single Russian RD-180 engine. These could be clustered together, and complemented by a Centaur upper stage, and up to five solid rocket boosters, to achieve a wide range of performance. More...
  • Atlas V 401 American orbital launch vehicle. Atlas V version with a 4-m diameter payload fairing, single engine Centaur upper stage, and no strap-on solid boosters. Payloads: 7,095 kg (15,642 lb) to sun synchronous orbit; 4,950 kg (10,910 lb) to geosynchronous transfer orbit. More...

  • McDowell, Jonathan, Jonathan's Space Home Page (launch records), Harvard University, 1997-present. Web Address when accessed: here.
  • NASA Report, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Web Address when accessed: here.
  • NASA Report, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Launch, Web Address when accessed: here.
  • NASA Report, The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission, Web Address when accessed: here.

Associated Launch Sites
  • Cape Canaveral America's largest launch center, used for all manned launches. Today only six of the 40 launch complexes built here remain in use. Located at or near Cape Canaveral are the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, used by NASA for Saturn V and Space Shuttle launches; Patrick AFB on Cape Canaveral itself, operated the US Department of Defense and handling most other launches; the commercial Spaceport Florida; the air-launched launch vehicle and missile Drop Zone off Mayport, Florida, located at 29.00 N 79.00 W, and an offshore submarine-launched ballistic missile launch area. All of these take advantage of the extensive down-range tracking facilities that once extended from the Cape, through the Caribbean, South Atlantic, and to South Africa and the Indian Ocean. More...
  • Cape Canaveral LC41 Titan, Atlas V launch complex. Complexes 40 and 41 were constructed as part of the Integrate-Transfer-Launch (ITL) Titan launch facility at the north end of Cape Canaveral in the early 1960s. Over the next three decades, the complexes supported a wide variety of military space missions involving Titan IIIC, Titan 34D and Titan IV. Complex 41 was deactivated at the end of 1977, then upgraded for the Titan IV program in the 1986-88 period. In October 1999, Complex 41 was demolished with high explosives in order for a new pad for launch of the Atlas 5 rocket to be erected. By then it had been the starting point for 27 Titan flights. More...

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Chronology

2005 August 12 - . 11:43 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC41. Launch Pad: SLC41. LV Family: Atlas V. Launch Vehicle: Atlas V 401. LV Configuration: Atlas V 401 AV-007.
  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter - . Mass: 2,180 kg (4,800 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA; JPL. Manufacturer: Lockheed. Class: Mars. Type: Mars probe. Spacecraft: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. USAF Sat Cat: 28788 . COSPAR: 2005-029A. Summary: Transferred from Atlas 3B. Delayed from August 10 and 11, 2005..

2006 March 10 - .
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